“The Avatar” by Poul Anderson
review ©️ 1995 by P. Douglas Reeder
Humanity has started star travel by means of ‘T-machines’, loosely based on concepts by the physicist F.J. Tipler and others. The T-machines were built by a mysterious race known only as ‘the Others’, who left the (crucially important) directions to only one other star system. An alien race, the Betans, have been encountered and a ship, Emissary, has been sent to open contact. Upon its return, elements of the world government that oppose exploration and expansion imprison the crew. Dan Broderson, businessman and starship captain, learns of this by craft and gathers a crew to bring the word to Earth.
The expected action then ensues, but halfway through, the storyline takes an unexpected turn. By the end, however, Anderson brings the story to a fulfilling conclusion.
The characters are well drawn, and more three-dimensional and realistic than is usual for Anderson. The Betans are plausible and interesting, though mostly off-stage, except for one, Fidelo, who returns on the Emissary.
Much of the book is about how people in a group of a half-dozen, isolated from all others, interact with each other. Most of this is fairly well done, though at times, problems appear without prequel.
One of Anderson’s chief themes is love and sex, and how strict monogamy is unnecessary. I find it plausible that some people can have polygamous relations without anyone’s feelings getting hurt, but not that all of the polygamous relations that go on in this book could happen without more upset, or that they would all work out happily.
Expansion versus inwardness of humanity is also a major theme, and, no surprise, the people in favor of expansion are the good guys.
All in all, this is a thoughtful book that is not too artsy, nor too much concentrated on action; it stands in the classic tradition of SF. IMHO, this is Anderson’s second-best book, next to The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. I enjoyed reading it and recommend it.
%T The Avatar %A Poul Anderson %I Berkley Publishing Corp. %C New York %D copyright 1978 %N SBN: 399-12228-1 %O hardback 380pp %X SF